Saving One Life At a Time

Six million children--and even more adults--die unnecessarily every year. Good people all over the world are doing their best to save them. You can too

We make a living by what we get, Churchill said, but we make a life by what we give.

And to save a life? If you're Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, you give fantastic sums of money, more than $1 billion this year alone. But he also gives the brainpower that helped him make that money in the first place, hunting down the best ideas for where to fight, how to focus, what to fund.

If you're a rock star like Bono, you give money. But you also give the hot white lights that follow you everywhere, so that they shine on problems that grow in shadows.

If you're Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, you raise money--but you also give the symbols of power and the power of symbols: two men, old enemies, who got over it because the needs are so pressing that they now work together. It's a model for unlikely partnerships of the kind that progress demands, partnerships among doctors and pastors and moguls and lawyers and activists and tribal chiefs and health ministers and all the frontline angels of mercy everywhere.

We Americans like to see ourselves as a generous people, but the rest of the world sees us differently. Among advanced countries, the U.S. ranks last in foreign aid development giving as a percentage of national income.

The distinctive generosity of Americans is more private than public, countless gifts of time and money--but 98% of that money stays here at home, in part because donors could never be sure whether their money would actually land where it was needed and be used well once it got there.

2005 has been a special test. First the tsunami hit just before New Year's-- 240,000 lives lost, flooding and mudslides killed hundreds in Guatemala, and an earthquake killed 80,000 in Pakistan. We were reminded what disaster feels like here at home, and we raised $1.7 billion to help hurricane victims.

This is the year Americans got a real-time crash course in all kinds of relief efforts, what governments can do, what charities can do, what heroes can do when they have the resources they need. In a year when we grieved for the people we could not save, maybe we search harder for those we can.

You can't stop an earthquake; but you can stop malaria, say the experts, if you just spend the money to do it. And malaria is like an earthquake that kills more than 80,000 every month.

The "we're safe, it's far away" illusion has died; the sense of being stalked by a disease is now felt in rich countries as well as poor, and we find we have something in common with people who live with such fear every day.

[From an article by Nancy Gibbs, TIME magazine]

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